A few words from a small enterprise on Ed Miliband's conference speech.
Ed Miliband was right in one point he made in his speech two days ago. He correctly identified a problem felt by millions of Britons, especially those under 40 years of age.
And that is hope. And belief. In a better future.
Or the total lack thereof.
A great many people in this demographic feel entirely disenfranchised from politics, and indeed the country. They have been priced out of the housing market, their children attend schools where standards are now lower than previous generations, whilst standards of living have slipped at a faster pace than at any time since the 1870s. There is no job for life anymore - and with ever more sophisticated automation, jobs are likely to become rarer over the coming decades. Pensions to the self employed are mythical beasts. And with an ageing population, stress levels are being tested on all areas of government provision. Our institutions, once the guarantee of a fairer society and a limitation to the power of government and corporations, have deteriorated to the point where they are genuinely unhelpful. We have an aircraft carrier about to enter service that has no aircraft. We have a police force that has wilfully turned a blind eye to heinous abuses against the most vulnerable due to a politically correct myopia and yet still they are entitled to a wonderful pension as thanks for their 'service.' We have a media that uses unethical means to dig up stories.
All sections of our society are under attack. And it is right that those under 40 should feel most concerned.
People in this youthful demographic feel, quite rightly, that they have been abandoned by the state and that the future is a darker and more terrifying place than they had once thought. And with a government borrowing truly obscene amounts of money every year to plug the deficit, there is no sign that things are going to get better for them. After all, who else but they are going to pay for this magnificent debt? Do we remember Cyprus, when the EU allowed them to raid bank deposits to help themselves to peoples' wealth with a one-off capital levy? Sometime in the future, the UK government will have to resort to something similar after more quantitative easing becomes impossible. (And before that time, the cost of imports will have gone flying up due to currency dilution - which will make life interesting on an island that can produce only 80% of its consumable food, let alone fuel and raw materials).
With such a potent mix of genuine anger building in the country, we would surely have had a right to expect some radical suggestions from Miliband in his role of Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. That's his job! Instead, the biggest cheer he received was his appointment of Lord Cashman as a gay and lesbian rights envoy to countries who really won't give a fig for this man's opinion. The small matter of the deficit was totally left out of his speech in an act of forgetfulness that can be seen as having nothing but Shakespearean symbolism in its implications. How can anyone forget THAT? Every other policy will depend on how much (or little) money there is to spend.
Off the cuff, last night and in the pub, me and a few co-conspirators thought up a few radical suggestions that might ease the potentially explosive mix brewing up here. Here they are in no particular order:
- Move government out of London to Birmingham. In the UK, we are near unique in that one city is home to government, finance, and culture. In the US for example, you have government in Washington, finance in New York, and so-called culture in Los Angeles. This would also allow us to reduce MPs/civil servants pay as they would not have to be paid the London wage and would, mostly, be fewer miles for them to travel. Benefits would also be had in getting the Panjandrums out of the media clique and into a more realistic and representative environment.
- A price on all NHS prescriptions so patients can see how much their medicine is costing. This would encourage responsible use.
- A charge for anyone who misses NHS appointments, be they GP or hospital visits. In 2011-2012 in the West Midlands alone, more than 6 million appointments were missed! Or approximately 10% of those scheduled. (Missed GP appointments might cost in the region of £160 million per year going by figures from 2004! Missed hospital appointments probably cost more due to the interference in others treatment after a missed patient has to be re-scheduled and the costs for fighting an ailment that was diagnosed later is always more than one diagnosed earlier). I think a charge of £25 for a GP being missed is fair, and £75 for a hospital appointment.
- If you are drunk and have to go to hospital due to your own actions then you should also be charged. A nice £100 would give a hangover a real sting.
- Civil servants should also be made to realise that they can no longer use incompetence as an excuse (if they balls things up, they should stand to lose the majority of their pensions). In 2002, the dreaded NHS patient records system was launched. By 2013, it was abandoned. The cost? A mere £10 billion!!! The fact that no one seems to have been held accountable is highly damaging to our society where there is an ever growing divide between those who work in the private sector (and would have been lynched if they were responsible for a tenth of this biblical disaster), and the public sector (where . . . they were mildly savaged by a report from Parliament's public spending watchdog. And no doubt they are now off work due to stress). I think it is fair to say that the public sector needs to realise that every single penny counts as their children will be amongst those lamenting the interest they'll have to pay on Britain's £1.3 trillion debt.
- Civil servants and MPs should also be prevented from entering into employment with a company with which they have done business with in their time in office. It is a revolving door between government (those meant to get the taxpayer a good deal), and external suppliers (who are interested in profit). Too often we have seen people move into consultancy positions or join boards on companies with which they have just been buying from. It isn't a stretch to imagine that some of these people have, in their time in office, ensured their suppliers a good deal with a promise of a future, cushy job when they leave.
- PFI would either be abandoned, likely with penalties in the short term, or face charges for defrauding the taxpayer which would lead to an automatic cancellation of contracts.
- The immense elephant in the room: unfunded pensions, both amongst the public sector and the state pension. The fact that these pensions are funded from future taxpayers rather than a savings pot has to stop as a matter of urgency and potential solutions need to be aired by a cross party group. It is entirely unsustainable and, at its root, highly unethical. (And the amount: some estimates have this as £1.4 trillion or £5 trillion over the coming decades - on top of our national debt. The UK doesn't have that wealth. At all. It will lead to the direct impoverishment of the next generation if it is to be made up of tax receipts).
- Finally, and this one is my favourite: To concentrate the public mind on our tax burden, the bank account of every UK adult should have a simple account added to it. It's title? Tax liability! This would represent every individual's share of the national burden, and would update monthly. There's approximately 50 million adults in the UK, of which nearly 30 million are in work. This equates to a personal debt responsibility of £26,000 per adult or £43,000 per working adult. And it gets better: we're borrowing nearly £100 billion per year to cover the gap between income and expenditure, so every week that goes up by nearly £2 billion, or £40 per adult, or £66 per working adult. There will have to be a day of reckoning for this debt, but before that time comes, public services will either have to learn to live within their means or face drastic cuts similar to southern Europe and all the social unrest that provoked. Unless, that is, we can turn the sinking ship of state to a leaner heading.
I would also like to address Miliband's agenda. A tobacco tax - on a shrinking industry which will raise ever less revenue (and still provides more revenue for the government than the cost they incur). NHS increases with £2 billion a year - this is less in real terms than Thatcher's time in office (an average of 4% increase per year). And it is less than what the coalition has increased NHS spending by per year! And no mention of how to cut the deficit. (We spend £45 billion a year on debt interest alone! That's more than we spend on defence (£38 billion), and not far short of what we spend on education (£53 billion) - if ever there is a picture of the imbalance between old and young, then this is surely it). To be 'together' with Ed is a choice in which I would far rather end up on my own. It was an uninspiring speech, devoid of sense, and no where near radical enough to inspire.
Things need to be said on behalf of our future. No party, and no leader, is saying them. For they are unpalatable truths. And it is not just Britain that will pay the price of this silence - the world will. Whether we like it or not, the UK is a force for good in a world that is fast imploding, and if our country falls behind because of political incompetence, our trade will suffer. Ladies and gentlemen, it is our ability to trade that gives Britain its power. That has always been our strength. We have never been a military empire. Ours was an empire built on trade. If our ability to trade collapses due to high import costs or the spectre of a default, then our influence on the world stage will follow on its coat tails. Our voice will be no more than an echo of honest but ignored truths in a world of cronysim, and not capitalism. I do not wish to live in this world.
We lack leaders. We lack inspiration. We lack the radicalism that we need to inspire us to dream the great dreams of Brunel or Bevan. We lack hope.
The situation is becoming so dire that a future election will not be between a Cameron or a Miliband. We will require the likes of a Thatcher as a minimum to stand up and be counted. Someone who possesses a will and mind enough that they do not seek re-election (for the austerity needed it will only be a one term parliament). It might require more than that, even. A Cromwell or a Napolean. Someone who will take an exhausted people to the giddy heights of aspiration. And the problem with this? It could even be a Hitler.
Surely then, Mr. Miliband could have done better? We cannot continue on this path of political platitudes. To do so will impoverish those under 40 who are becoming ever more aware of this fact and has led to such a dire disbelief in politics that we find extreme choices put before us. In the words of David Starkey, on This Week (21st March 2013 - 12 minutes in), "We have a genuine national crisis. We have no politician who shows any sign of grasping it or understanding what to do. If you don't do something about it, other people will, and I don't want that to happen."
From guest contributor Tom C.